Last week President Jimmy Carter said aloud what many in the political elite make plain only in private.
“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” the former President uttered in response to a question from NBC News.
It was a bold and controversial statement but its sentiments are shared by a large swath of 'enlightened’ opinion in this country. Most prefer more qualifiers and cloaked language than Carter but, at root, they believe what Carter believes: these conservative protester-types are uncomfortable with a black president.
Of course, any conservative politician worth their salt is out there denouncing these words by the former President. Gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Zach Wamp, did not disappoint on this score.
“[President] Carter is wrong again by making opposition to [President] Obama’s policies a racial issue. People can disagree [without] everything being 'racial,’” the candidate posted on Twitter.
So, is this intense heat on Obama from the Right racially motivated? Sure, some of it is. Despite the progress made in this county, there are still race haters who simply will never accept a black man as President.
However, these people are few and far between — just as folks who are completely colorblind are extremely rare. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle.
Would Obama get the same reaction if he wasn’t black? That’s an impossible question to answer. If Barack Obama was a white man named Mike Smith, he wouldn’t be Barack Obama.
It’s like asking if Obama lost white votes in 2008 in certain states because of his race. Well, yes, of course he did. But he also gained votes in certain states because he was black. It was, and is, both a blessing and a curse.
You may disagree, but when I look around the white population of America I do not see a lot of overtly racist people. I do not see folks with a high level of of racial consciousness or solidarity. If you asked most white people if they were racist they would tell you no — and they would believe it. If you hooked them up to a lie detector, they would beat the box.
That is not to say that they don’t have biases or subconscious racial attitudes that are hurtful and even dangerous. In all likelihood, they do. The point is they don’t think they do.
So when average conservative whites, who don’t believe they are racist, are bombarded by messages that they are wicked race haters — they bristle. They dig in. They become resentful. Do these individuals have racial biases they need to think deeper about? Might they benefit from a racial sensitivity course or a seminar on white privilege?
But using the mass media to call them out as racist isn’t going to make them suddenly realize the error of their ways and repent. If anything, these attacks will marginalize folks who are already marginal. It will drive them into the arms of the true racists. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the biggest enemy of increased tolerance and racial healing is “anti-racism” itself.
Why do you think the President is always reticent to ascribe questionable racial motives to whites? I’m sure there are times when he’d like to call out some his detractors as a bunch of ignorant crackers. I know I would if I were him. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t because he knows that it would be counterproductive.
Confrontation was desperately needed during the Civil Rights movement to change laws and confront customs that were overtly racist and needed adjustment. That time is over. The work isn’t done but the last couple humps to true healing are tricky ones. Finesse is needed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates describes Obama’s unique ability to accomplish this.
“He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness, and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date, and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them,” Coates wrote in a blog post last week.
Condemning the tea party protesters and the townhall agitators for their racism, real or imagined, only further alienates the movement and empowers the demagogues who pull their strings.
Racism is a cancer in America. Radiation has shrunk it down to a manageable size. Now what is required is delicate surgery. Obama is attempting to use a scalpel while people like former President Carter insist on the same old dull blade of anti-racism.
Doctor Obama is in now. Let him work. He’s got this.